Sowing Seeds

Each year more and more people grow their own vegetables and flowers from seed. For best results always follow the directions on the packet.


Success in raising seedlings in pots or boxes will, to a very large extent depend on the type of compost you use. In most cases a good quality 'General Purpose' compost can be used but there are specific 'Seed' composts available. It should be moist but not too wet. To test the compost, take a handful and squeeze it. When you release a clenched fistful should fall away in small crumbly lumps. If any liquid is squeezed out, it is too wet.

(NOTE: organic growers would choose a peat free compost without added chemical fertiliser. Many commercial composts are now free of peat and it is worth checking to see what nutrients are added)


Fill the pots or boxes with the compost and level off by scraping a piece of wood across the rim. Compress the compost slightly by pressing down with a piece of wood or another pot to leave the surface level at about 12mm (½") just below the rim of the pot or box.

Scatter the seeds lightly and evenly over the surface, either direct from the packet or by placing in the palm of your hand and pinching a few at a time between your fingers. Press them gently into the surface. Very small seeds, like Begonia should not be covered with compost, but larger seeds - according to size, will need a light covering to help anchor the developing seedlings. Give the surface a light sprinkling of water, and then cover with paper and/or glass or place the pot in a polythene bag and seal the top, to help conserve the moisture while the seeds are germinating. Never let the surface of the compost dry out during the germination and seedling development period.


Seedlings should be pricked out when the first true leaves are distinguishable. Always handle seedlings by the seed leaves, these are usually tougher and easier to get hold of than the true leaves. Remember to water the seedlings an hour or two before you are ready to prick out. When pricking out flower seedlings of mixed colours, be sure to include large and small seedlings. It is one of the quirks of nature that plants with richer and more unusual colours in a mixture, develop more slowly. Carefully ease the seedlings out of the containers, placing the seedlings in the prepared holes and gently pressing the compost around the roots and stem to leave the seed leaves just above the surface. Give a light watering, and then protect the seedlings from direct sunlight for the first 3 or 4 days while they are recovering from the shock of transplanting. When the seedlings are established commence weekly liquid feeding.

(NOTE: organic growers could use liquid Comfrey or similar organic feed.)


Good soil preparation is most important for successful plant-raising outdoors. The soil is suitable for sowing if it is firm and moist, and the surface level is friable (crumbly). Make sure that freshly dug ground is made firm by 'treading', i.e. walking all over it, before raking level and sowing or planting.


You may find it more convenient to scatter the seed in broadcast fashion, say in patches of ½-1m square (½-1 yd.sq.) Or similar size circles, ovals etc. Vegetables like Carrots, Little Gem Lettuce, Onions and Radish and many annual flowers are ideal for growing this way. When you've sown the seed, lightly rake the surface to get the majority of seeds covered, then go over the plot, gently pressing the soil down level with the back side of the rake.


In open ground, seed can be sown a little deeper than that recommended for indoor sowings, but do follow the advice given on the seed packet. Some seeds, like Sweet Pea, Beans, Peas, Beetroot, etc. are large enough to sow singly, but the majority of seeds have to be sprinkled in drills and later thinned. Cover the sown seeds, firm the ground by walking along the row, then rake the surface level.


It's a good idea to have two goes at thinning-out. When the seedlings seem large enough to handle, thin initially to leave twice as many as you'll require to grow to maturity. Two or three weeks later, you can take out the surplus seedlings. In the case of Lettuce, Onion, etc., use the thinnings in salads, transplanting some to where you have large gaps, to leave the row or plant complete with well spaced plants. Always water transplanted seedlings.

© copyright 1999, P. A. Owen

UK gardening help and assistance